Annabel Cartwright explores the scandalous lives of the Pollitt family in the classic play written by Tennesse Williams
It is a blisteringly hot day in the Mississippi Delta, 1954, and the Pollitt household is celebrating Big Daddy’s birthday at their cotton plantation home. Over the course of one turbulent evening, the family wrestles with emotional repression and its destructive consequences, all within the stifling confines of one claustrophobic bedroom.
Exploring issues surrounding birth, death, depression, supressed homosexuality, motherhood and masculinity (to name but a few) Tennessee Williams’ timeless play brings to public consciousness the damaging nature of societal expectations, and resulting efforts to sustain the perfect family façade.
In the Royal Exchange Theatre’s most recent production, the eight-strong cast of highly accomplished actors ooze passion and vivacity in their interpretations of Williams’ eminent characters. Each and every cast member delivers their role with a starkly human and personal approach. Of particular note are the performances of Charles Aitken (Brick), and Mariah Gale (Maggie). As the couple found at the centre of this particular plot, Aitken and Gale provide a convincing and truthful representation of the closeted complexity and pain which is often experienced in married life.
Aitken’s depiction of Brick’s depression and his ensuing struggle with alcoholism is acutely harrowing, and has an enduring emotional impact upon the audience member. With moments of pure genius, the direction by James Dacre is unquestionably appropriate. In retaining the naturalistic basis of the piece, he creates the perfect foundation upon which the intricate humanity of each character is built. In conjunction with the lighting and sound design by Richard Howell and Emma Laxton, Dacre’s direction is powerful and stimulating, both to the eye, and the emotions.
Mike Britton’s stunning set creates a wonderfully minimalistic backdrop for the piece. Creating a sense of claustrophobia on an open, in-the-round, stage space can undeniably present designers with difficulties, however with thoughtful use of set and prop placement, Britton creates a four-sided microcosm within which all the action of the piece may take place without causing distraction or visual obstruction.
Crumbling into a cathartic denouement, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof shakes the audience to the core. Sure to be one of the most significant productions of Tennessee Williams’ classic play, every aspect of the Royal Exchange’s production contributes to a performance deserving of the highest acclaim.